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Hackensack Teacher Puts Passion To Paper

Christopher Ryan reads from his novel, "Genius High."
Christopher Ryan reads from his novel, "Genius High." Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine

HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Chris Ryan is nothing if not passionate about literature.

“Give me some of the students who don’t like English, and my passion for it will get them through it,” said Ryan of New Milford.

Ryan teaches senior English and journalism at Hackensack High School but works another job as a full-time novelist.

His career began as a journalist with Bronx Weekly Newspapers, where he wrote up to 25 stories per week.

During his tenure as a reporter, however, one particular event altered the trajectory of his life.

From 1987 to 1991, Ryan helped to cover the area’s notorious crack wars, a time in which dozens of kids were killed.

“It wore on me,” he said. “It wore on my soul.”

Ryan decided to join the police force to quell the violence. But when the district's superintendent heard that he'd be applying for the academy, he bet him the best steak in New York City that if he became a teacher, Ryan would never feel the need to become a police officer.

Needless to say, Ryan still owes the superintendent that steak. After spending five years in the Bronx, he moved to New Milford and continued his career as an educator at Hackensack high School.

“The classroom is not about the teacher, it’s about the students,” he said. “What I’m interested in is their brilliance.”

His path to success as a fiction author has been more fixed.

Though Ryan’s students at Hackensack High are aware of his publishing success, Ryan says it would be self-indulgent to force them to read his novels.

The academic world, however, did offer Ryan literary inspiration for another recent book, “Genius High.” A young adult thriller on the surface, Ryan acknowledges the story is also a dig at New Jersey’s PARCC testing.

Ryan, who recently completed his tenure as president of the Hackensack Education Association, says the state-mandated tests soured many students to what school can offer.

Along with novels, Ryan has found creative outlets in other venues.

Ryan has acted in, co-written and co-produced a number of works for New Jersey’s Feenix Films, including his new movie, “Clandestine,” a feature that was recently screened at the 49th annual WorldFest-Houston International Film & Video Festival.

The movie garnered five award nominations at the festival – a best supporting actor nod for Ryan among them – and won two, including the Gold Award for Crime Drama.

Despite his many projects, Ryan has no plans to take a break.

New literary projects on tap include “Perfect,” a loose sequel to “Genius High.” Two more works in the City series are also nearing completion.

The first, “City of Blood,” will be offered for free in mid-summer to those who sign up for an email list. The next, “City of Love,” is slated for publication in the summer of 2017.

Another Ryan film, “Zombies of New Milford,” described by Ryan as “a zombie comedy,” is in the final editing phase, as well.

To read Ryan’s blog, which includes the Blackjack series, click here.

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